Sometimes you encounter people that completely blow you away. Two weeks ago I met about 30 of them during my tour of the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) at George Mason University. Recently we introduced the program and Temple Douglas, the high school senior who used nanotechnology to discover a biomarker for diagnosing Lyme disease. The interesting thing about ASSIP is that Temple is not alone when it comes to making breakthrough discoveries. By pairing Aspiring Scientists with mentors to work on real-life problems, they all contribute to amazing scientific discoveries in one way or another.
Thirty mentors participate in the program and hand pick the students with whom they wish to work. Mentors volunteer their time and generously offer their knowledge and expertise to draw out the best in their students. Dr. Claudius Mueller, a mentor for the past three years, offers insight into why the program works so well.
In addition to a passion for science, Dr. Mueller demonstrates a passion for opening up new worlds to others. He acknowledges a serious gap in our education system, which does not prepare students to go out on their own. By giving students the opportunity to learn the difference between lab work performed in high school and college and practical application of that knowledge in real-world, medical research experiments, ASSIP participants understand their career choices before completing their degrees.
Judy Rohrer, the Aspiring Scientist working with Dr. Mueller this summer in the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine will surprise you. A biotech student from Northern Virginia Community College, Judy began a career in computer science. She left the work force after six years and stayed home for several years to raise three children. When assessing what the next stage of her career should be, Judy chose biotechnology and then applied to NOVA. She and Dr. Mueller are evaluating a new biomarker and histology preservative that has been developed by Dr. Mueller, Professor Virginia Espina and Professor Lance Liotta. Their goal: obtain an accurate snapshot of what patient tissue looks like and what is happening at the molecular level immediately after tissue is taken from the body. This will be essential for prescribing personalized cancer treatment. Wow. It just goes to show that with the right talent and motivation you can reinvent your career at any time.
While Judy is not the norm, what she says about the program is. The hands-on experience is essential to paying attention to what’s important and gaining the confidence so she can work independently. In other words, practical experience makes her choice real in a way nothing else could.
When asked, all of the Aspiring Scientists said the same thing about ASSIP. The most important part of the program is providing practical experience for the students. Dr. Mueller and his colleagues are achieving their goal. In doing so, these high school and college students begin real contribution to scientific research years before it would be otherwise possible. Talk about making a difference in people’s lives.
The Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program is funded by corporate and personal donations. The 2011 ASSIP is supported by kind donations from Micron Foundation, Lockheed Martin, Prince William County Economic Development, Fisher Scientific, Cell Signaling Technology, Corning, SCHOTT, Invitrogen, Applied Biosystems, Eppendorf, Aushon Biosystems, McGraw Hill, Dako, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Applied Scientific, USA Scientific, and Northern Virginia residents.